Playing music in isolation: How artists keep the show going

Story by T.P.

For musicians and bands in the local music scene, playing in a live gig meant rehearsing together, showing up in the venue and playing their heart out to a crowd. 

In the pandemic, playing in an online gig means recording and filming for hours on end, mixing tracks and making videos to be livestreamed online and watched remotely. 

“You have to be patient, you have to be really sensitive [with participating for online gigs],” says Lia Alfonso, vocalist and rhythm guitarist of seven-piece indie folk band Indayo. “It usually takes weeks or days, the longest for us would be two weeks.” 

Bands and musicians have been struggling to stay active for almost a year since the lockdown began in March 2020.

“[An online gig] makes it a little more isolating, kind of lonely experience,” says Stef Aranas, who sings for her passion project Stef & Euge, an electronic pop R&B duo. “You don’t have the energy of an audience to hype you up.”

Both Indayo and Stef & Euge have been gigging in various bars and concerts, producing music for the scene since 2018.

These artists share how they struggle to play music while stuck in their homes and separated from each other so that the show keeps going. 

Playing in isolation 

“The biggest thing about being in a band is that you are with people when you’re playing,” says Babu Dadap, Indayo’s bassist. 

However, since artists can no longer play together in a studio or onstage, they record their music in parts on their own instead. 

“Because [now] you’re not really playing with the people you’re playing with, you’re more like playing to a track,” Babu comments.

To prepare for an online gig, Indayo sets deadlines for themselves to individually record their respective instruments. To make their recorded performances close to how they sound live, each member would take hours up to days just to record. 

“It’s like you’re playing the gig again and again and again,” says Babu who spends about three to six hours getting the perfect take. 

For him, the lack of real-time feedback from his bandmates and the inability to make improvisations when playing alone makes recording tedious and unnatural. 

Despite being a duo, Stef & Euge face the same struggles when recording remotely for online gigs. Stef mentions how recording makes an artist very conscious of their output.

“If they keep the video online, people [can] look back at this, they’re gonna know if you missed a note,” says Stef.“Lalong lilinisin mo ‘yung take mo at ulit-ulitin mo hangga’t maayos na.”

Yet, to simply record requires both proper equipment and software, which not every artist can afford. 

Both bands have had instances when their equipment broke down and they had to buy a new one, or passed around equipment for another bandmate to use.

Indayo has to record seven instrumental tracks along with additional tracks for vocals. Photo from one of their online gigs.

More work than before

After recording for around a week, artists still need to mix their tracks and create music videos which requires significantly more work than simply performing live onstage. 

Mixing and mastering is the process of balancing and combining the individual tracks in a song, then preparing it for distribution to various online platforms.

This meticulous process is often done by professionals. However, Babu had to learn these skills from scratch in order to produce Indayo’s songs for their online gigs. 

While artists record, they also need to film themselves playing – a repetitive task due to the amount of attempts it will take to play perfectly. 

“Putting together a live session is fine, pero it does build up and gets a bit frustrating,” says Euge Yaptangco, Stef’s partner who produces and mixes their music. “You’re going to be shooting the same videos of the same songs in just the same place.”

Video editing is another skill that requires artists to sync their tracks along with everyone else’s videos to create the illusion that they’re all playing together at the same time.“It‘s a lot more work kasi ang daming production aspects na you don’t think about when you’re on stage,” Stef adds, who would have to edit their videos after all the work is done in mixing and recording.

One of Stef & Euge’s performances for the online fundraiser KALayaan sa pagKAPPantay-pantay last Oct. 10, 2020.

Striving to connect online

Because everything is done virtually, artists struggle to stay active and interact with their audience.

Since online gigs are usually just live streamed, performing to a crowd has turned into mere numbers, comments and reactions on-screen. 

“A huge part of gigging is the interaction with the crowd and the people themselves,” says Babu and his bandmates who miss performing live. “As an artist that’s what you want to do. You want to connect with your audience, you want to be able to express your emotion through song, through lyrics, and touch the lives of other people.”

Additionally, artists still need to post content on their social media pages to stay connected to their fans and update them on their online gigs and new singles. 

“I get really burnt out when doing pushes for promos,” says Stef who feels that Stef & Euge’s social media presence needs improvement. “I feel like there’s so much emotion that goes out into putting out content; it’s [like] an emotional rollercoaster each time.”

Because both bands work on all the added labor, staying active during the pandemic has taken a toll on them both physically and mentally. These artists juggle playing music with their lives as students and professionals. 

After working for numerous benefit gigs, Indayo decided their members needed a short break to rest and focus on their personal lives.

“We don’t want to say yes and 50% lang ‘yung ibibigay namin,” explains Lia when they had to decline benefit gigs despite wanting to support their causes. “We wanted to say yes because we can actually commit, … [because] we can give our time and effort.”

Underpaid 

While the struggle for musicians has become more apparent, income has diminished to almost none at all as online gigs aren’t monetized and are usually done as fundraisers. 

Stef & Euge’s earnings from online gigs are only a third of what their normal pay used to be. Yet, they noted that they weren’t always getting paid even before the pandemic. 

Indayo, on the other hand, used to earn P5,000 to P10,000 monthly. But since the lockdown, they have barely earned P5,000.

A Bandwagon survey among 101 Filipino musicians on the impact of COVID-19 showed that over half had experienced a drop in income since the onset of the pandemic – almost a quarter of whom suffered an 81% to 100% loss from what they used to earn.

Streaming platforms aren’t of much help either. Spotify roughly pays artists $0.0032 or P0.15 per stream, which means a thousand streams would amount to just about P153. 

Both bands already have singles released on Spotify. However, both note that they still haven’t earned much because of the complications in its distribution. 

Sobrang underpaid ng artists by streams, not just us, but everyone.” says Stef. “‘Di siya pwedeng livelihood with where we are right now.” 

Artists persist 

Despite these circumstances, artists continue to learn, adapt and create music because they want to keep the show going within computer screens.

“It’s because we’re committed, not just to staying together and making music,” says Cita Alfonso, Indayo’s drummer. “[But] moreso to the message we want to convey.”

Members of Indayo persist to perform because they want to uplift their audiences given what the nation is going through.   

“We appreciate what we make; we like the music that we put out,” explains Stef on why they continue to play. “Sobrang satisfying to put a song out into the world and know that you’re proud of it. Pinaghirapan mo ‘yun, your soul is in there.”

Despite their struggles, both bands are grateful that their fans still listen to their music and invite them to online gigs, which motivate them to keep playing. 

“[Music is] really something that’s ingrained in my life,” says Euge. “Most of the time, it doesn’t really matter if I release something or anything at all, basta ginawa ko and I’m happy with it.

Support your artists

Ultimately, artists should be recognized and properly compensated for the insurmountable struggles they face, especially under a pandemic. 

Both Indayo and Stef & Euge often play free of charge for fundraisers because they want to support those in need.

However, they believe artists should still be appropriately compensated under the pandemic for all the work they do — especially for whom it’s a livelihood. 

“Compensating someone in itself is you showing respect,” notes Cita, who believes there are still people in society who do not regard art as valuable and valid as science. “Both are labor, both of you may need it. Art is a whole aspect of need.” 

Apart from just compensation, both bands also urge people to stream local artists’ music, follow their social media pages and share their releases with friends and families. Take the time to also explore and listen to other artists who haven’t had the chance yet to perform live.

“What’s important is you really acknowledge that you’re very thankful for the efforts they give you,” Lia says on supporting artists’ music.

Although artists work hard in spite of these struggles, they, like everyone else, are still people who have lost much because of the pandemic. The music they continue to play live via stream and release online from the confines of their home deserve to be listened to and enjoyed.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*
*

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: